Myanmar in flux, millions protest

On February 1, the Myanmar military—known as the Tatmadaw—staged a coup d’etat, overthrowing the Southeast Asian country’s government. This restricting takeover, involving the detainments of government officials and internet shutdowns, came after a 12-year quasi-democratic rule under State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. Protests quickly broke out in Yangon, Myanmar’s capital city, as well as in many nearby countries, including India, Thailand, Israel and South Korea. Despite isolated breakouts of violence, these demonstrations were generally peaceful. As of February 9, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres had spoken out against the military coup, and President Biden threatened to impose sanctions. China, however, responded cautiously to maintain its relationships with both Suu Kyi and the Tatmadaw. 

Since February 9, the civil unrest in Myanmar has persisted, prompting new developments. Demonstrations have continued, with millions of protesters flooding the streets in cities like Yangon holding adamant signs and adopting the three-fingered “Hunger Games” salute. According to the New York Times, the military set up barricades, placed snipers on rooftops and issued an ominous television warning that “Protesters are now inciting people, especially emotional teenagers and youth, toward a path of confrontation where they will suffer a loss of life.” 

At least four deaths have occurred as a result of the coup: a 20-year-old woman died after being shot in the head on February 9, and a 16-year-old boy as well as two other unarmed protesters were shot and killed on the 10th. “Twenty people were injured and two are dead,” said Ko Aung, a leader of the Parahita Darhi volunteer emergency service. The Tatmadaw has continued to impose internet and communication blackouts in attempts to discourage the demonstrations, but, according to Jen Kirby from Vox, the protests are proof that the Myanmar coup is not going as the military planned. 

“It’s so saddening to see that the soldiers are beginning to feel a sense of authority and are treating the people of Myanmar as almost nothing,” said Susan Par, president of Hope College’s Asian Student Union. “They are finding more joy in hurting them, and they are celebrating and cheering each other about hurting a civilian, and that’s ridiculous. It breaks my heart! This coup needs to end soon, otherwise I don’t know what will happen next.”

The Biden Administration recently followed through with its threat to impose sanctions, issuing an “Executive Order on Blocking Property with Respect to the Situation in Burma” that prevents military members who orchestrated the coup from accessing about $1 billion in the United States. Other sanctions were already in place following the Tatmadaw’s persecution of ethnic minorities, most notably the Rohingya Muslims, who have long been subjected to discrimination and religious persecution. “The United States will continue to take firm action against those who perpetrate violence against the people of Burma as they demand the restoration of their democratically elected government,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “We stand with the people of Burma.” Canada and the United Kingdom, too, have imposed sanctions against military officials involved in enacting the coup. 

Most countries close to Myanmar, however, have not taken decisive action against the Tatmadaw. Neighbors including Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines, have referred to the situation as an “internal matter,” and Malaysia has deported 1,086 Myanmar nationals. “The Malaysian government is recklessly imperiling the lives of over 1,000 Myanmar people by deporting them under a curtain of secrecy to a country in the middle of a coup marred by human rights violations,” said Katrina Jorene Maliamauv, Amnesty International Malaysia’s executive director. China continues to respond cautiously but did support a watered-down U.N. Security Council statement that called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and a return to democratic norms. 

On February 24, Facebook announced that it had banned Myanmar’s military from its platforms. Advocacy groups have criticized the social network for failing to act sooner. “Donald Trump was kicked off Facebook for inciting violence and an attempted coup, but the Burmese military are allowed to stay on Facebook despite committing genocide and holding a coup,” wrote Mark Farmaner, director of the advocacy group Burma Campaign UK, prior to the ban. “It’s time to kick the Burmese military off Facebook.” The Tatmadaw’s use of Facebook pages has appeared to be used mainly to provide rationale for the coup and to create support for the military, according to the New York Times. The bans from Facebook do not appear to affect the personal accounts of military officers or the many closed chat groups that feed the nationalist narrative popular among soldiers.

In an article published last month in The Anchor, Par suggested reading these linked posts from Instagram users @chinyouthtalk and @standnow. Now, she encourages people to send her donations via her Venmo account, @susanpar. She will be distributing all funds to strikers on the frontlines.

Carole Chee ('24) is the editor for the Beyond section. A double major in English and Women's & Gender Studies, you can find her around campus in the Keppel House, behind the library's research help desk, or in the theatre props shop! She is passionate about uplifting each person's unique story and voice.

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